FERRARA-FLORENCE, COUNCIL OF: An assembly which met at Ferrara early in 1438 to consider proposals for union between the Greek and Latin Churches. The great danger threatening the Greek empire at the hands of the Turks led the emperor, John Palæologus, to disregard the aversion generally felt in the East for Rome and to make proposals for a union of the two branches of Christendom to both the pope, Eugenius IV., and the Council of Basel, which was in session at the time. The pope was unwilling that the council--with which his relations were anything but amicable--(see BASEL, COUNCIL OF EUGENIUS IV.) should share in the glory of a possible successful outcome of negotiations, and thought his purposes would be better served if its sessions were transferred to an Italian city. Toward the end of 1437 he directed it to meet at Ferrara on Jan. 8, 1438. A complete rupture between pope and council resulted, the majority of the latter remaining at Basel, where they deposed the pope. A minority, however, who were favorable to the pope met at Ferrara. Early in Mar., 1438, the Greeks, about 700 persons, arrived at Ferrara as guests of the pope; the emperor arrived on the fourth of the month, the patriarch of Constantinople on the seventh. Prominent among the Greeks were Bessarion, archbishop of Nicæa, afterward cardinal of the Church of Rome (see BESSARION, JOHANNES), a friend of union, and Markos Eugenikos (q.v.), metropolitan of Ephesus, whose one thought was to defend the peculiarities of the Greek peoples against the imperious papacy; it was mainly due to his influence that the dogmatic discussions on the doctrinal differences, especially on the procession of the Holy Spirit, held in 1438 were without result. Financial difficulties obliged the pope to transfer the council to Florence. Here the first session was held Feb. 26, 1439, and the metropolitan Isidore of Kief was especially conspicuous as friend of the Union. After much discussion it was agreed that the terms used by the Church Fathers--the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and from the Father through the Son--are in the main identical (see FILIOQUE CONTROVERSY). By this the Greeks had actually acknowledged the authority of the filioque; but in no case would they adopt it in their symbol; they declared, however, their willingness to unite with the Latins retaining their own rites. In the beginning of June, 1439 the discussions of the filioque could be considered as closed; those on purgatory, the use of leavened or unleavened bread in the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the mass, etc., were relatively unimportant. But the whole union-scheme threatened to become again doubtful when the question concerning the "papacy" came up for discussion. A formula was invented, however, which each party could interpret according to its own view (see below). In the midst of these negotiations the patriarch of Constantinople died, June 10, 1439, and a termination of the discussions seemed more than ever desirable. On July 5 an agreement was arrived at, but Markos Eugenikos refused to sign it; another opponent to the union, the bishop of Stauropolis had already fled from Florence. It is noteworthy that the decree was signed by 115 Latins and by only thirty-three Greeks. The union-document was prepared in Latin and Greek by Ambrose Traversari, and corrections were afterward made here and there in the Greek by Bessarion. Both the Greek and Latin text may be considered authentic. On July 8, 1439, the solemn consummation of the union was celebrated in the cathedral at Florence. Cardinal Cesarini read the decree in Latin, Bessarion in Greek; after its general adoption Pope Eugenius celebrated public mass.
As concerns the contents of the decree, the main doctrinal difference was adjusted on paper, as already stated; the Greeks acknowledged the correctness of the filioque, without adopting it in their symbol. The other points--on the Eucharist, purgatory, etc.--were non-essential. The Greeks retained their whole ritual and marriage of the priests. Regarding the pope, a formula was adopted which the Greeks could and did interpret as acknowledging his primacy "in the way which is determined in the acts of ecumenical councils and in the sacred canons." The patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem could thus imagine they had preserved their privileges. The Latins, however, interpreted the last clause as a confirmation of their claims and read, the pope has the primacy in the church, "as is determined in the acts of ecumenical councils and in the sacred canons" (the original copy of the decree with other copies is at Florence in the Laurentian library). On Aug. 26, 1439 the emperor left for Constantinople by way of Venice. A real union had not been accomplished, the Greeks would not "Latinize," the fall of Constantinople was not prevented, and in 1472 a synod in Constantinople solemnly and openly renounced the union of Florence.